PALMER - Visitors to the Alaska State Fair are being kept back from livestock as an extra precaution against an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease similar to the one that occurred in Britain over the past year.
The fear was that tourists who had visited Britain recently might have brought the virus home with them on their shoes and clothing. The virus, which has decimated Britain's livestock industry, is extremely contagious.
Dean Phipps, marketing director for the state fair in Palmer, north of Anchorage, said the precautions are based on recommendations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The fair opened last week. Ropes are being used to cordon off the holding pens, and brightly colored signs are posted at all entries to the livestock barn asking anyone who has been outside the United States within the past five days to contact a fair employee before entering.
There are only about a quarter as many animals on hand this year, said Janna Krostek, supervisor of the fair's livestock exhibits. That's probably as much due to the reluctance of livestock owners to go to the trouble of hauling the animals to the fair when they can't make contacts with potential buyers as it is to fear of the disease, she said.
For visitors, not being able to touch and pet the animals has been disappointing, but most have been understanding, said Glenna Stanley, a volunteer herder.
Admiring the baby sheep and goats with her two children, Corryn Powell of Anchorage said the presence of the livestock is an important part of the fair. But as a former veterinary science student, she understands why the precautions are necessary.
"There's a lot of tourists, and you never know where people are coming from," Powell said.
Others were just as understanding but added that a fair without animals just wouldn't be the same.
"You gotta have livestock at state and county fairs," said Jeff Brush of Anchorage.